Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thunder and Global Warming? Real Time Perception?

I am going to start to address a risky, ambiguous matter here: Can we discern climate change in substantially real time?  It is risky because in some respects the matter has already been explored in the political landscape, and the answer is a resounding "No."  A snowstorm in April in Washington D.C. does not imply global warming.  Weird weather may be an aberration, and coupled with a lot of other observations it may suggest global warming, but it does not of itself imply global warming.  And that may be the answer to the inquiry I am going to explore here, but let me proceed with my exploration.

I learned some simple logic from George Woodwell.  More carbon equivalents in the atmosphere means that more energy is absorbed and retained in the atmosphere.  Energy is active.  It manifests as change. It can manifest as more, and more intense, storms.  It manifests as turmoil in the weather.  Now that word turmoil is somewhat carefully chosen, and ambiguous.  It needs to be operationalized.  I am going to attempt a beginning.

Some members of the Narragansett tribe taught me to sit, to watch and listen very carefully.  I was sitting, watching and listening this morning, and I heard thunder that was more intense than what I would expect in a long, light, soaking rain.  I have taken some pictures and made some sound recordings.  I am interested in others' thoughts and experiences about this.

I heard the kind of thunder that my experience indicates would be associated with a rather dark sky, the kind of sky that betokens a moderate storm, a storm that one does not stay out in comfortably.  Not the sharp peals of thunder for a thunder storm, but the deep throated, sometimes loud, 3/4 of the sky kind of thunder that gets your attention anytime you are outside.  If you are out playing golf, you immediately tell yourself you are at risk, and you get off the course unless you are foolhardy.  If you are on the side of a mountain, you are very worried.

Above there is a picture of the skies to the east taken about 10 a.m. EDT through an oak tree that is emerging in its summer finery.  The lightness of the sky matches the light rain.  We have lots of these rains during the course of the year, and we like them very much.  They are the long soaking rains that are so good for the plants.  What seems unusual, maybe a little less unusual than the thunder during snowfalls that I first heard in the past year or two, is the presence of deep thunder matched with this.  In the first recording, I hear ambiguous thunder, although it has a deep throated quality that tends to suggest that there may be something more going on than the photo would suggest.  In the second recording I hear thunder with a long, deep throated peal that I have heard in storms, not light rains. In the third recording I hear thunder that betokens a larger storm arriving.


Using tools that are available, these observations could in principle be measured, quantified, tested.  Short of that, many people can listen and watch carefully, compare notes, and develop a consensus.

Is there extra energy up there in the sky, energy that must be discharged as lightning and thunder?  Is it a symptom of some sort of climate change?  Or was it merely advanced warning of somewhat darker skies (still not very dark) and heavier (not very heavy or very long) rain that came an hour later?

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